Substitutes for Chinese Black Vinegar

Substitutes for Chinese Black Vinegar (Image: Hideki Yoshihara/Aflo/Score by Aflo/GettyImages)

Authentic Chinese cuisine owes its celebrated complexity to combinations of commonplace and exotic ingredients alike. It's not unusual for a recipe to call for a dozen or more ingredients, some that are pantry staples and some that are a little harder to find. Chinese black vinegar, also known as Chinkiang vinegar, is widely available in the United States, but you might need to visit an Asian grocery store or go online to find it.

If you don't have time to do so or just prefer to find an easy substitute for Chinese black vinegar, there are various other kinds of vinegar and condiments that can take its place. Some suitable substitutes for Chinese black vinegar are balsamic vinegar, malt vinegar, rice vinegar, sherry and Worcestershire sauce.

What Is Chinese Black Vinegar?

Black vinegar has been produced in China for thousands of years. It's made from glutinous rice, often with the addition of malt and other grains such as wheat, millet and sorghum. Its color and flavor differ from other types of rice vinegar due to being aged under the sun for upward of a year.

Chinese black vinegar is a common ingredient in eastern and northern Chinese cuisine. It features in braised dishes, as a glaze, in hot and sour soups and as a dipping sauce for dumplings.

The flavor of Chinese black vinegar is complex and mellow, sweet, smoky, malty and full bodied. It's less tangy than other kinds of rice vinegar and less sweet than balsamic vinegar. The flavor profile and quality varies considerably by brand and age.

Substitutes for Chinese Black Vinegar

You can use suitable substitutes for Chinese black vinegar, such as:

  • Balsamic vinegar: Chinese black vinegar is often compared to balsamic vinegar, which has a similar color and a somewhat-similar flavor. Balsamic vinegar tends to be sweeter than Chinese black vinegar, so try to cut the sweetness of a recipe elsewhere if you're using it as a substitute.

  • Other rice vinegars: Chinese black vinegar is made from rice, so other types of vinegar made from rice are a natural substitute. Regular rice vinegar, seasoned rice vinegar, red rice vinegar and rice wine vinegar are substitutes. However, these are all considerably more sharp than black vinegar. Add a pinch of sugar or a little honey to any of these types of vinegar to replicate black vinegar's sweetness.

  • Malt vinegar: Malt vinegar, most often associated with fish and chips, is a decent replacement for Chinese black vinegar, which is also made using malt. Malt vinegar is not as complex in flavor as black vinegar, but it does have similar notes. Again, add a pinch of sugar to impart some of black vinegar's sweetness.

  • Worcestershire sauce: The complex savory, salty and umami-rich flavor profile of Worcestershire sauce makes it a good substitute for Chinese black vinegar. It's also a similar color.

  • Sherry: Sherry has a similar level of sweetness to Chinese black vinegar, which makes sherry vinegar a substitute.

What Is the Best Substitute for Chinese Black Vinegar?

When you're replacing an ingredient like Chinese black vinegar in a recipe, the best option is probably going to be whatever you have on hand. If more than one of these options is available to you, the best substitution is to combine two or more of them.

For example, equal parts Worcestershire sauce and balsamic vinegar combine to offer both a mellow sweetness and complex savory notes. Malt vinegar plus sherry replicate the malty flavors and sweetness of black vinegar.

Use what you have and taste as you go. If your combination of ingredients tastes pleasant, you can be confident in using it to replace Chinese black vinegar in any recipe.

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